If the main elements of the European proposal are implemented, Russia’s war in Ukraine could have a huge, if unintended, consequence: it could accelerate Europe’s transition away from fossil fuels.
“Developments in energy markets over the past few months have underscored the need to accelerate the transition to clean energy and sustainably reduce our dependence on natural gas imports,” the draft document said. “Diversification of supply, frontloading of renewable energies and improvement of energy efficiency are the best insurance against price shocks.”
To reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia, many new infrastructures are being built to absorb liquefied gas from the United States and elsewhere. In Europe, as my colleagues Liz Alderman and Stanley Reed told me recently, LNG import terminals are already being extended in Belgium and Poland; a new one has recently been approved in Greece with funding from the European Union; Germany accelerated the construction of two new import terminals this week.
In the United States, noted my colleague Clifford Krauss, a new LNG export facility is expected to begin operating at Calcasieu Pass, Louisiana, this year; expansions are underway at two Texas export facilities; and 10 other export projects are under consideration. Nearly a quarter of US LNG exports went to Europe in 2021. In recent months, Europe has been the top destination for US exports.
So, could Europe survive without Russian gas next winter?
Recent analysis by Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank, suggests this could be the case, but not without reducing demand, changing regulations and spending a lot more money. Some Europeans seem to be taking steps to protect themselves. Electric heat pumps, one of the most cost-effective ways to replace gas boilers, have spread rapidly across Europe for the first time in 2021, but nowhere as fast as needed, as project manager Jan Rosenow regulatory assistance, explained in a Twitter thread this week.
Britain, meanwhile, has said it intends to continue drilling in its part of the North Sea, but its business and energy secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said this week that his country’s energy security should ultimately come from renewables, which in Britain includes nuclear power.
“It would be utter madness to shut down our national gas source,” he said on Twitter. “But the long-term solution is obvious: gas is more expensive than renewables, so we need to move away from gas.”